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Take-Two CEO Says It’s ‘Hard To Imagine’ Why Devs Would Want To Unionize

Recently, there has been an ongoing discussion about unionization in the video games industry. With massive games like Red Dead Redemption 2 being made and reports online about alleged stressful work environments at Rockstar Games, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that the hard working devs would want to unionize. In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, the CEO of Take-Two, Strauss Zelnick, shared some opinions on the matter. He said that “it’s hard to imagine” why these developers would want to unionize, but that the company will follow laws and work together with everyone involved to come to an agreement if that is the direction the developers want to go.

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Gridknac29d ago

"It’s ‘Hard To Imagine’ Why Devs Would Want To Unionize". Really?! How about leveling the playing field between publisher and developer? Reasonable work hours, fair pay, and job security to start. Oh no, I can't imagine why either.

AnubisG28d ago

Yes, all true. However, on the other side of the coin, games will suffer. By how much? That remains to be seen.

Ahytys28d ago

No videogame is worth somebody's health. I'm all for limiting games' visuals and hugeness if that means saving life. What the hell are we even talking about?

AnubisG28d ago (Edited 28d ago )

@Ahytys,

I'm not saying people should be worked to death but I have experience with unions and what I've seen is that jobs take 10x as long and cost 10x as much if you work with them. Union workers take their sweet time to do a job. No reason to work quickly because the longer it takes to complete a job the better for them and they can't even be fired because of the union. Look at NYC construcion jobs...it's a mess. Drive around NYC and look at road constructions. They are done by unions and some have been going on for decades. I moved to NYC in 1999 and when I moved out of NYC 2016, a job that was going on on the Harlem River drive is STILL in the process to be completed because of unions.

So no, the health of people does not worth it but because of unions, we can very easily fall to the other side of the horse and not have games completed for a decade or more and not have quality games either. But we will have to wait and see. Unions are only good for the people who are in them, never good for anyone else. Personally, if I had a job to do and needed to hire people, I would never hire people in a union. I also know people in unions and they are the lasiest workers out there. One of them who get's $70/ hour sleeps through most of his working hours because he can.

So what I said is based on what I've seen of unions. They will be good for developers but most likely, not for gamers.

shloobian28d ago

Unions are the biggest crooks of all.

shloobian28d ago

Unions the only place a $10 an hour guy can make $35 an hour while performing the equivalent of 15 minutes of work and play an integral role in killing the industry he works for.

LucasRuinedChildhood28d ago

Have you ever heard of collective bargaining?

AnubisG28d ago

Yep, very true. If you hire people in a union, the job will take 10x longer and will cost 10x as much. A union is only good for the workers who are part of it but is not good for anyone else.

agent453228d ago

So you want to be exploited and work for meager wages do multiple positions for the same wage. Work long hours without break. Unions fight for worker's rights why do you always side with the corporation.

+ Show (1) more replyLast reply 28d ago
rainslacker28d ago

As an industry wide initiative, it's not practical, and once a studio unionizes, it limits what talent they can acquire, as people need to be in the union to work there.

A union isn't needed in the game industry. there is an extreme shortage of qualified applicants within the industry, including the entire IT industry where many of these developers can work, and the graphics artists industries are similarly short staffed. This makes it a workers market, where they don't need to placate to the studios will, and can make demands on their own.

More so, the talks of unions come from many places which have bad management and poor open door policies. Usually those same places are bad at setting the expectations when one comes in, but for any long term game developer, they know what the deal is, and they choose to do what they do.

A union isn't going to fix those things for them, because the union can't fix what causes these issues to begin with. The union can only exacerbate the problem within the studio, and cause more delays, and an increase in production costs. It happened in movies, and music, and if video games unionize, expect production costs to increase significantly....in an industry that already complains that it costs to much to make games, yet sees the highest revenue of any entertainment medium.

In the past ten years there has been a movement by many publishers and developers to have better working conditions. Training and hiring studio heads that know how to manage projects properly. Getting producers who know how to produce, instead of leaving it up to ego-centric or more socially awkward game devs who just got moved up into positions they really weren't suited for. The industry knew this needed to happen, so it took steps to make it happen. It's not perfect, and there are still issues that need to be solved, but it's not for a lack of the industry not knowing what it's workers are saying.

We can take the developers side on here and pretend that we understand what it's like. And I'll be the first to say that the industry loses more through attrition than it does through better offers, because despite what you say, game developers are paid pretty well, and for their skill sets, it's not easy to find work in general IT that pays as well. Working hours in a well run studio are usually typical professional 40 hour a week deals, but as with any industry that works with deadlines, there is going to be times where more is asked of the employees. It's when that happens all the time that there is a problem, but if a person is in a studio where it happens all the time, then the product usually suffers, and since there is a lack of talent in the industry, it may just be time to loo for something else.

beyond that, it just means more of the industry will go towards contract labor, because contract labor doesn't always have to be part of a union.

rainslacker28d ago (Edited 28d ago )

So, You can imagine or not either way, but as a developer, this topic is actually something that concerns me, and I don't need people who are ill-informed on the subject of both unions, and working conditions speaking for me, or those who also may be affected by it. Your snarky response is reactionary based on limited data, and anecdotal examples, and your assumption that unions make things better where there are internal issues that have nothing to do with the things unions deal with is just damaging, and how unions get a foothold. Once they get a foothold, if the workers realize it's not better, or the industry starts to dwindle, or opportunities begin to dwindle...because a non-union shop isn't going to hire a union member....it's nearly impossible to get the union out. The unions know this, and they know that it doesn't even take a majority vote of the workers to be granted access on that level. It's why so many places will just shut the doors down on stores or whatever if there is even a whiff of unionizing.

Smokehouse28d ago (Edited 28d ago )

The only thing that matters to me is the games. I could see unions having a negative impact on games. Good developers getting complacent because they are earning the same as no-talent hack Johnny because it’s fair. Games cutting massive corners because devs won’t work more than 8 hours a day and the publisher won’t pay them for 10 years to make a game. The fair wage means shit if your games suck, that fair wage turns into no wage.

I’m all for better work conditions but a union seems counterproductive.

Zeref28d ago (Edited 28d ago )

First of all, no game developer i know WANTS to make shitty games. I'm currently a student and a lot of us aren't seeing this as a 9 to 5 job.

Second of all. Unionizing doesn't bar good performers from earning more for their good work.There's always bonuses and salary increases.

3rd of all. There is no such thing as a no-talented game developer. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. It's either you can do your job or you can't. If you can't then you're not getting hired.

Smokehouse28d ago

Not everyone can make great games. When a publisher invests in your idea that sounds great and it ends up being shit, why are they responsible for your fair wage and security? It’s a volatile business, cutthroat capitalism and contract work. That’s good you view it that way because it’s not a 9 to 5 job (good luck to you). Unionizing makes it seem like people want it to be a 9-5 and it wouldn’t work. It’s not a voice actors guild where an actor comes in for a month. This a years and years of grueling work. I appreciate it with my money that I work hard for too lol.

Yeah, salary increases for everyone. Which means less workers, which means the job of delivering quality will be that much harder. If you are getting bonuses on merit then what do you need a union for? People just need to talk to their superiors honestly lol. If you don’t ask for a raise they aren’t going to give you one out of the kindness of their heart.

Sure there are. There have been plenty awful studios that don’t exist anymore. There are plenty of good studios that don’t exist anymore. That’s the unpredictable state of the industry and wishing for “job security” is a lost cause. I’m not singling out game developers, it’s every profession.

rainslacker28d ago

Good luck in the industry. I remember when I left a rather nice IT job to get into game design. Was in my early 30's and was terrified, because I knew about all these "poor working conditions" that were so talked about all the time. Crunch being the common term for it.

I proved my worth, and eventually fell into a tool designs position at a 3rd party company that doesn't make games directly.

You are spot on, anyone going to school isn't going to be lied to about how great it is. They're going to be prepared. My first two internships, I was sat down at the job offer, and they spelled out exactly what was expected of me. For the first, I was coming in near the end of the project, as a game tester, and they said I'd be making a shit wage, but I'd have all the overtime I could handle....and made it clear 60 hours was kind of expected. I did that, if not more, and volunteered to do programming tasks, and excelled at them, which is really where what helped me get other jobs later.

I do understand that it does suck having to work an ungodly number of hours every week, but some people do seem to think that it's every week, and that there aren't other benefits to working in the industry. Things like higher than average pay for an IT job...with it always going up as more skilled labor is hard to come by. Generally a good amount of vacation for actual non-contracted jobs, with whole months during the holiday not being unheard of. Typically great health insurance for non-contract labor. So on and so forth.

Is it perfect? Not if you're looking for a steady 9-5 job with no surprises. Sometimes crunch can not line up with family life things. Milestones are important, and can cause longer hours, although I've yet to work in a studio where every single person is required to do it. I'd say that yes, it's expected, even if only asked, but people know this going in. It's impossible not to.

But, it's the pride of the work that many developers feel that makes them persevere. The one's that really complain about it often seem to be working in studios that aren't under great management, and most of the instances I've seen it discussed are from former employees, or just some mention of how they had that bad time for a bit at that one time, which some people take to mean that it's an every day thing.

Anyhow, unionizing doesn't bar good performers from earning more pay for good work, but it marginalizes the pay rates, so someone who may not be a good performer, and not doing good work, can get paid the same. And that's more an issue.

But, the industry pays for results. Without fail, if you can perform, and deliver, you will always have a job, and they will pay what they can to keep you if you are looking elsewhere. But those results are often achieved through longer hours, and harder work, because that's just the kind of industry it is.

I worked my ass off in the production of a few rather highly praised AAA games, and some indie contract work. My efforts landed me a position making 6 figures a year, and not low 6 figures, in what is now a 9-5 job, where I don't mind working longer because I get to dictate when I do that, and it's usually because I get excited about solving a problem, and if I do have to stay, it's providing tech support for a developer client to get their game working....and that makes me feel pride in my work, and satisfies my need to solve problems.

rainslacker28d ago (Edited 28d ago )

Unions can't solve the problems that lead to the poor working conditions that some developers feel they have to deal with. Unions can't make good managers or producers. They can't make the schedule go according to plan.

All they can do is ask for more money, and better hours, and protect jobs of people who maybe shouldn't have their jobs protected. Outside of the normal terminations that happen at the end of a project, which needs to happen for many devs to maintain profitability since the publisher makes most of the money anyhow, there is no reason to have 50-100 graphics artists working when your in pre-production. But, with a union, they'll likely have to stay on. That means more contract labor, which actually means that the workers get fewer benefits, unless they unionize, in which case, it becomes a cluster-f**k trying to get talent, because once someone unionizes, they limit their potential jobs to only union shops. That means that the whole industry has to unionize, which means that you're part of the union, whether you want it or not, and those devs have to abide by union rules, regardless of if they have problems or not.

I appreciate those who want devs to have better working conditions, I just think they need to stay out of the discussion. The entire industry isn't screwed up, and the people I see commenting on these things seem clueless on the nature of unions and what they can achieve, and what the working conditions are within the industry.

The industry is one based on dead lines. This meansits going to have it's share of rough times. But it is what it is, and game developers are compensated pretty well. Crunch sucks, but it's a fact of life in the industry. The game industry loses a lot of talent due to this, which is why the industry itself is taking steps to remedy what it can. But those kinds of things don't happen overnight, and it's a long road to get to where everything needs to be. Unions only prolong that road, and while i may be an immediate gain for the employees, it's not a long term solution to what needs to be done.

There's a severe lack of qualified workers in the industry. Within the next 10 years, there aren't going to be enough people to go around, and more outsourcing will be necessary. Outsourcing will become more expensive. If anyone thinks the industry as a whole isn't well aware of this, and trying to make sure it doesn't lose more people than it has to through attrition, they're wrong. We're talking a two hundred billion dollar a year industry. With a severe lack of qualified IT professionals as a whole...which by 2030 is expected to be over 10 million unfilled positions in the US alone, there is choice, and demand will mean more money, and the working conditions are going to be better. The industry wants qualified people though, but sh*t happens, and the general feeling in a good studio is one that takes pride in it's work. I've never heard a developer say, "Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out". If someone is qualified, they do their best to keep them happy, but everyone sometimes has to make sacrafices at times, and that is pretty much a commonly understood fact of life in the industry....one that has gotten much better in the last 10-15 years.

Smokehouse28d ago

Exactly. A budget is a budget. Some are better at budgeting than others. It’s hard to do when you don’t have a blank check like Congress.

I’m not trying to butt into the real conversation or speak for you. That’s just my opinion looking at it from the outside in a market kind of way. I don’t know how the working conditions are or pretend that I do. I can see a studio hit a peak and the collapse out of nowhere though. Things change quick in the games industry, that’s obvious to anyone that pays attention. A union couldn’t control or keep up with that and the attempt would just ruin it for everyone like you said. It’s not a long term solution or a way to better games imo.

rainslacker28d ago

I wasn't suggesting you were butting in, just that a lot of people seem to be trying to speak on the developers behalf, as opposed to just being empathetic and showing support. There's a fine line between that, and giving advice on the best way to proceed, or assuming that what they feel would be beneficial for the developer is something they should be commenting on.

It happens with all these kinds of articles though. It's a topic that I feel would affect me, although I doubt what I do would require a union shop, but if I ever get back into game production again, I'd rather not have to worry about that. I know I have a highly in demand trade, so I can pick and choose, and I also know that given the staffing issues in the industry, many other devs can as well.

I just feel that some of the issues are overblown by the community, and they assume way too much about what really goes on in the industry during these crunch times.

I wouldn't presume to speak for another dev despite understanding these issues a lot more, even if we disregard the union talk, so I question those that feel they need to speak on the developers behalf, because what they say is really meaningless to the devs who may be talking about or considering such action. The discussions about such things in industry forums is usually pretty serious talk, but seems more like people that just need to vent some frustration, and I'd say that 95% of the time, people do cool down and even accept that's the kind of job they signed up for. They love what they do, but sometimes it can take it's toll on a person, and that's usually most prevalent when they're actually doing it, or its imminent. Typically, after it's done, developers tend to feel more pride that they managed to deliver a product. The other 5% may have life issues which cause them more problems...namely marital or relationship strain, which crunch times can cause other issues to be exacerbated and used as a crutch to find the real issues in said relationships. Generally speaking of course.

agent453228d ago

If the union can modernize to today's time by eliminating featherbeding (not allowing technology to progress) along with becoming a merit based union that protects only the workers that do the job. In a way the union works well for both the industry and game developer. The movie/tv industry has proven unions can work with the entertainment industry without any hindrance or making it worse.

rainslacker27d ago

@agent

Maybe. But an open door policy that is actually followed within the developer is just as effective. The industry pays for results though, and they don't just keep people around if they can't perform. Bad studios blame their workers. Good studios realize that the issues are usually in management, because it's the management that hires the workers. Publishers play a part sometimes, as they can set unreasonable deadlines, but they've gotten a lot better about that in recent years, because despite the buggy messes we get with release date deadlines often, they do give more time to get to that point.

The indsutry itself recognizes the problems that do exist, and didn't need a union to make it happen. Just a swift kick to reality to make them realize just how bad off they're going to be, compromising those billions they make every year, if they can't stop people from leaving. Attrition is the game industries worst enemy, and the biggest reason qualified people were leaving the industry is because of the working conditions not being great, and with the lack of skilled professionals in IT, they could make as much, or sometimes more at a more routine job. When the desire to make games dies, the will to put their all into an industry was dying with it. That tends to happen as people get older and priorities change.

So, the industry is adapting. But like all things like this, it's not an immediate change, and it will take time.

+ Show (1) more replyLast reply 27d ago
BlackIceJoe28d ago

As a blue collar worker I can understand why people want to unionize the gaming industry, but I also can understand why it could be bad too. So trying to find that happy medium where the workers get treated better, get better benefits and don't lose their jobs can be a difficult one.

Without going into my job I've unfortunately have seen the bad side of unionization and that being more automation and the job being sent over seas. So again I say there has to be a better way to go about helping the employees, then unionizing the gaming industry. There also has to be a way to address crunch and the mistreatment of employees.

So hopefully the issue that employees being treated better and not having to work themselves to the breaking point can be addressed soon.

I think one way to do that is if companies don't keep pushing for constant updates to games so quickly. I understand that as soon as you ship the game you want to keep gamers engaged with the games, but when you hear the horror stories from the employees about having to get patches out like yesterday and how they need new content always being added it makes you very angry to hear how the employees are treated, when they can't get it done as quickly as the board of directors would like.

L7CHAPEL28d ago

I'm Union as well brother,
and what you're thinking as far as him being reasonable, is a pipe dream.

if they were we wouldn't have these huge buggy games being released.

a lot of the crunch-time in back end of it is them having to fix things and meet milestones in retro, and not being paid for it.

faster and harder they force the game out, the less they'll have to pay the developer on the backend.
to them it's simply meeting a milestone, and you having to fix what you did,
so they force unreasonable shipping dates, and don't give a shit how the product comes out,
then all the blame falls on the developer for the most part,
the publishers and the people that finance these games for the most part, have no vested interest in giving a shit at all, whether people perceive them as a nice company or whether the games even good to begin with, it's a product they want to be successful and make money.
they could give a damn about anything else.

And the way they'll treat their employees or any developer is all cost related...

rainslacker28d ago

It's not a matter of if it's good or bad. It's a matter of if the unions can actually solve the problems. The unions can supposedly be the voice of the worker, and find ways to make sure every worker is accomadated for. But the industry itself is not quite so black and white. There isn't a set process to creating a game, and unions can not account for those variances to the degree that makes a production reliable, stable, or even practical.

Disregarding the pay issue, which is really not an issue as even salaried workers are compensated for extra hours in most shops, the hours issue is something that stems from many factors well outside the unions control. However, unions don't work in gray areas, only in black and white, with sometimes some consideration given to the company at hand. The unions simply can not affect those things, and if anything, they can only make them worse.

Unionizing the industry would likely result in a lot more contracted labor, which is not actually ideal for a lot of people who are skilled. It will result in a lot more outsourcing, usually to Korea, China, or India nowadays. It's cheaper, can produce good results, and doesn't require maintaining a staff, or dealing with unionized labor, and the unions can change that.

Unions can't make better managers, they can only make it so managers have to abide by whatever agreements the workers and union have to agree to work there, which may not line up with deadlines, or a fluid production.

Unions just aren't the answer, especially since the industry already understands it needs to remedy a lot of these problems, and they are making the effort to do so. they have to, because otherwise, too many studios are going to not have what they need to make games, and then things will really only get worse for the people who have the problems now. About the only benefit they'll gain is maybe more pay, and it won't take a union to make it happen. It'll happen through pure attrition, and rapid growth of an industry which doesn't have enough qualified applicants to fill the spots.

agent453228d ago

We can form guilds like the movie/tv industry. Is very similar to gaming especially if is treated like animation which is unionized. If they can bring unions similar to that of movie guilds or animation unions. It could work. Enough of poor little corporation, and the number of excuses.

rainslacker27d ago

Guilds and unions in movies or other media of that sort drive up the costs of production by a significant amount of money. So many things have to be adhered to on set, and they can't hire people who aren't part of guilds or unions for those productions. Every studio in hollywood adheres to it.

They may have reason to have had to do such things, but it didn't actually help the industry move forward, nor is it, or ever was an industry that is suffering from a severe shortage of people wanting to be part of it. Movie productions don't even work on a regular schedule, and long work days for long stretches of time are not uncommon. Pay, job security, safety and general procedures, and minimum requirements for staffing are about the only things they provide for movies and other such media.

That kind of thing may word for the game industry, however, it doesn't solve the one and biggest issue that seems to be a problem, and that's crunch times. A union can mandate breaks for amount of time work, but anyone who's worked in a studio will tell you that it's rare one will get called out for taking a break, and usually only happens if people disappear for hours on end, and don't get the work done they need to get done.

agent453228d ago

Look at the movie/tv industry it has shown how unions can help via guilds.

KwietStorm28d ago

It's hard to fathom someone making a more tone deaf statement.

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